Events timeline

Welcome to our event timeline. Here you can find out more about the key events, people and places from the past 300 years that make up Aviva’s heritage.

Select the events that interest you to find out more. Where available, you can also view images, video clips and PDF documents that relate to the selected event. If you can’t find what you are looking for, or need further information, please visit our companies and countries pages.

1696 Hand-in-Hand founded
Hand-in-Hand founded

Aviva can trace its heritage back to the late 17th century, when the Hand-in-Hand was founded at a meeting in Tom's Coffee House, St Martin's Lane, London.

Established as a mutual society on 12 November 1696, the Hand-in-Hand was once the world's oldest existing fire insurance office and was a forerunner of the modern co-operative system.

Two other fire insurance offices, the Fire Office and the Friendly Society, already existed at this time but the Hand-in-Hand was the first to be established on the mutual principal.

It was first known as Contributors for Insuring Houses, Chambers or Rooms from Loss by Fire, by Amicable Contribution. It was known as the Hand-in-Hand by 1720.

For many years, the Hand-in-Hand operated its own fire brigade. In 1699, the company employed six watermen to act as firefighters and gave them blue uniforms lined with red. It ordered its first fire engine in 1716 to supplement the fire buckets, crowbars and axes already in use.

Policyholders included dukes, lords, earls and bishops. In 1710, the Hand-in-Hand insured the house of Sir Robert Walpole, who would become Britain's first prime minister. It also insured houses belonging to Sir Isaac Newton, Dr Samuel Johnson and the Duke of Wellington.

It provided insurance cover for a number of notable London buildings including Guy's Hospital and the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane. Samuel Whitbread's new brewery in Chiswell Street was insured by the society in 1750, and Lambeth Palace was insured for the Archbishop of Canterbury. In 1758, the Hand-in-Hand insured the temporary London Bridge following the destruction of the previous bridge in a fire.

In June 1905, the society's assets and business were transferred to Commercial Union. This signalled the end for the Hand-in-Hand and the company was dissolved in the same year.
  

  • Image shows a copy of the minutes taken at a Hand-in-Hand meeting, held at Toms Coffeehouse, St Martin's Lane on 12 November 1696.

 

1706 Amicable Society founded
Amicable Society founded

London bookseller John Hartley established the Amicable Society for a Perpetual Assurance Office in July 1706.

Founded under a charter of Queen Anne, the Amicable claimed to be the world's first mutual life assurance society.

Primarily intended to ensure that the widows and children of members were provided for in the event of a member's death, the society was also eligible to provide members with annuities.

The Amicable was acquired by Norwich Union Life in 1866.
  

  • Image shows the Amicable coat of arms.
1771 Going Dutch
Going Dutch

Aviva's business in the Netherlands can trace its origins back to the establishment of Assurantie Compagnie te Amsterdam in 1771. This company was acquired in 1958 by De Koepel, which in turn was bought by Delta Lloyd.

Another company that later became part of Delta Lloyd, Hollandsche Societeit van Levensverzekeringen (Hollandsche Societeit), was founded in Amsterdam in 1807.

Hollandsche Societeit claimed to be one of the very first life insurance businesses to draw up premium tables based on scientific calculations instead of charging speculative premium rates.

In 1808 it refused an application for a policy on the life of the Emperor Napoleon by a third party, considering it to be simply a wager on the life of a "crowned person".
  

  • Images shows a Hollandsche Societeit poster from 1807.
1780 First roots in Ireland
First roots in Ireland

Aviva's connections with Ireland date back to 4 May 1780, when the Liberal Annuity Company of Dublin, later part of General Accident, was established.
 

  • Image shows the Liberal Annuity of Dublin Report, from 1874.
1792 Early days - Norwich General

The Norwich General Assurance Company was established by Thomas Bignold in November 1792 to insure against loss by fire.

In 1797, the company moved from Gentleman's Walk in Norwich to new premises at St Giles.

Bignold remained at the Gentleman's Walk office and established a new company, the Norwich Union Fire Insurance Society, which absorbed the Norwich General in 1821.
 

  • Clip from Born in Norwich documentary, showing Norwich General Assurance Company.
1797 Norwich Union founded
Norwich Union founded

Norwich Union, one of the principal companies that eventually merged to create Aviva, was founded in Norwich, Norfolk, on 1 March 1797 as the Norwich Union Society for Insuring of Buildings, Goods, Merchandizes & Effects from Loss by Fire.

Its founder, Thomas Bignold, was a 36-year-old wine merchant and banker. Some years earlier, when he moved from Kent to Norfolk, he had been unable to find anyone willing to insure him against the threat from highwaymen, who often lay in wait and robbed travellers on the lonely roads of the time.

Bignold saw a business opportunity for someone willing to provide financial protection for people and their property. He was also aware that, in a city built largely of wood, the threat of fire was at the forefront of people's minds.

Norwich Union, which was actually the second insurance business set up by Bignold (after the Norwich General in 1792), later become known as the Norwich Union Fire Insurance Office.

It was a mutual enterprise. This arrangement meant it was owned by the policyholders, who not only pooled their premiums to pay out in the event of a claim, but also received a share of the profits.
 

  • Image taken from a Norwich Union Fire Policy 103, in 1797.
1808 Norwich Union expands

A particularly severe winter involving widespread suffering and loss of life prompted Thomas Bignold to establish the Norwich Union Life Insurance Society.

Bignold had founded the Norwich Union Fire Insurance Office 11 years earlier. Both companies were based on the mutual principle, a forerunner of the modern co-operative system.

In 1925, the two Norwich Union companies came together when the Life Society bought the entire share capital of the Fire Society.
 

  • Clip from Born in Norwich documentary, showing the Life Society.
1809 North British and Mercantile founded
North British and Mercantile founded

The North British & Mercantile Insurance Company was established as the North British Insurance Company.

The first major fire in the company's history broke out in a Glasgow warehouse in 1810 during celebrations for King George III's birthday. The cost of the damage was far greater than it should have been because the firemen were too drunk to put out the blaze.

In 1822, James Stuart, one of the company's first directors, was involved in the last duel fought in Scotland, when he shot and killed Sir Alexander Boswell.

The North British & Mercantile was later praised for paying up promptly following the San Francisco disaster of 1906.

It became a subsidiary of Commercial Union in 1959.

  • Image taken from a North British Policy in 1834.
1810 First US office
First US office

Aviva can trace its roots in the United States to 1810, when American of Philadelphia was established.

The company collapsed with huge losses following the San Francisco disaster of 1906 and was acquired by Commercial Union.
  

  • Image shows Thomas H Montgomery, president, American Fire of Philadelphia, in 1891.
1817 Newcastle by gaslight
Newcastle by gaslight

The Newcastle upon Tyne Fire Office, established in 1783, introduced a system of gas lighting to the city of Newcastle in the north-east of England.

The company, which later became part of Commercial Union, ran the service until 1830, when it was sold to the Newcastle upon Tyne Subscription Gas Light Company.
 

  • Image taken from a Newcastle Fire proposal in 1817.

 

1824 Continental connection
Continental connection

The group's first agency in mainland Europe was established when the Norwich Union Fire Society appointed Messrs Abel Dagge & Co as its representative in Lisbon, Portugal.
   

  • Image is taken from a Norwich Union Lisbon policy header.

 

1824 Sir Walter Scott
Sir Walter Scott

Novelist Sir Walter Scott, one of the original shareholders in the Edinburgh Life Assurance Company (established in 1823), was elected as an extraordinary director of the company in December 1824.

He also took out a life assurance policy for £2,000, which is still held in the Aviva group archive.

Scott insured his house, Abbotsford, with another of Aviva’s constituent companies, Scottish Union, of which he was also governor.

Commercial Union bought the Edinburgh Life Assurance Company in 1918.

  • Image taken from an Edinburgh Life poster in 1885.

 

1825 French connection
French connection

Aviva was first represented in France when the Norwich Union Fire Insurance Society opened an agency in Bordeaux in September 1825. The office was to carry out business in Bordeaux, Toulouse, Anglouême, Bayonne and any other part of France.

In May 1826, Norwich Union approved its first policy in France, for 200,000 francs cover on a wine warehouse.

The operations that we recognise today as Aviva France have their earliest roots in L'Abeille Bourguignonne société d'assurances contre la grêle, which was founded by farmers in Dijon in 1856 to provide insurance against hailstorms destroying their crops.
 

  • Image taken from a Norwich Union Fire prospectus Alsace in 1871.
1834 Indian story begins
Indian story begins

The Universal Life Assurance Society, later part of North British & Mercantile, was established to carry out life assurance in the UK and India.

Universal was one of several Aviva group companies to conduct business in India until the insurance business was nationalised following independence in 1947.

Aviva re-entered the Indian market in 2002 in a joint venture with Dabur, one of the country’s oldest and largest groups.

In the same year, Aviva India became the first company to use the group's new brand name.
   

  • Image shows the cover of a prospectus from 1851 for The Universal Life Assurance Society.
1836 Northern Assurance founded
Northern Assurance founded

Aviva's first connections with many countries around the world were often through the agents of Northern Assurance.

The company was founded in 1836 in Aberdeen, Scotland, as the North of Scotland Fire and Life Assurance Company.

It became the Northern Assurance Company in 1848, and began overseas operations in 1851.

The great fire of Yokohama, Japan, in 1866 cost the company £50,000 in claims, wiping out all but £5,000 of the previous 30 years' profit.

The San Francisco earthquake in 1906 cost the company US$2,420,000, which included the payment of the largest single loss paid by any insurance company in the wake of the disaster.

Commercial Union acquired Northern Assurance in 1968.
  

  • Image taken from a North of Scotland Fire and Life Prospectus in 1837.
1840 Provident Mutual founded
Provident Mutual founded

Specialist life and pensions company Provident Mutual, later an important acquisition for General Accident, was established as The Provident Clerks' Mutual Life Assurance Association.
  

  • Image taken from a Provident Clerks' Mutual Life poster in 1897.
1840 First fidelity insurance
First fidelity insurance

Fidelity insurance was the earliest form of non-fire, life or marine insurance successfully offered by corporate bodies in the UK.

It was instituted in June 1840 by the Guarantee Society, which was established to protect employers from fraud or embezzlement by their staff.

The creation of the Guarantee Society, later part of General Accident, appears to precede the foundation of fidelity insurers elsewhere in Europe.
   

  • Image shows the cover of a Guarantee Society staff magazine from 1923.
1846 First group life assurance
First group life assurance

The first UK group life assurance scheme was established by Provident Mutual, later part of General Accident.

Group schemes enabled employers to pay the premiums to provide life assurance for their staff as a benefit of employment.

Provident Mutual managed staff life assurance schemes for – among others - the post office and leading railway companies.
   

  • Image shows part of a poster for a meeting held in Plymouth by The Provident Clerks' Mutal Life Assurance, to discuse the advantage of life assurance and the exceptional facilities which exist on the Great Western Railway for the company's employees.
1848 Norwich Union murder
Norwich Union murder

Isaac Jermy, president of the Norwich Union Life Office in Norwich, was murdered by one of his tenants, James Rush, who also killed Jermy's son and wounded a servant.

Norwich Union staff were given time off in April the following year to watch Rush's hanging outside Norwich Castle.
   

  • Portrait of James Rush drawn in court.

 

1848 First accident insurance
First accident insurance

The Railway Passengers Assurance Company was created to insure people travelling by train against the frequent railway accidents of the time.

This was the first form of accident insurance, and could be purchased when passengers bought their ticket. In its later product literature the company claimed to be the "Oldest Accident Office in the World".

In 1849, the Accidental Death Insurance Company followed this pioneering lead by becoming the first insurer to offer cover against death and injury caused by accidents of all kinds, not just those related to railway travel.

Both companies were later acquired by Commercial Union.
 

  • Image shows a Railway Passengers Assurance poster from 1904.
1851 First Australian office
First Australian office

Aviva's first link with Australia stemmed from the establishment of the New South Wales Marine Assurance Company in October 1851 (which became part of Commercial Union in 1881).

Aviva group companies were at the heart of the Australian insurance industry for the next 150 years.

The group sold its Australian general insurance business in 2002 and its life and pensions business in 2009, but is still represented in the Australian market through Portfolio Partners, now part of global asset management operation Aviva Investors.
  

  • Image shows a New South Wales Marine agreement with Commercial Union from 1881.
1852 Clear first in plate glass insurance
Clear first in plate glass insurance

The UK’s first plate glass insurer, the Plate Glass Universal Insurance Company, was established. It later became part of Commercial Union.

The insurance provided was mainly to protect shopkeepers from the expense of repairing large shop front windows, but extended to domestic windows and mirrors.

This type of cover originated in France in 1829 but its introduction to Britain was held back by Window Tax, a payment made by householders for the number of windows in their home, which was levied until 1851.
  

  • Image shows an advert from the Post Magazine Almanack for Plate Glass Universal Insurance in 1855.
1855 First piece of China
First piece of China

Northern Assurance Company, later part of Commercial Union, appointed Turner and Co as its agents for Shanghai on 3 May 1855.

Several other Aviva constituent companies subsequently had businesses in China. All were closed by 1951.

The group's current Chinese life insurance joint venture, Aviva-Cofco, opened for business in January 2003.
 

  • Image shows the General Accident Fire & Life office in China.
1855 Singapore and Hong Kong
Singapore and Hong Kong

The Northern Assurance Company, later part of Commercial Union, appointed Turner & Co as agent for Hong Kong on 3 May 1855.

Two weeks later, Northern Assurance appointed Spottiswode & Co as agent for Singapore.

More than 150 years later, Aviva continues to be a leading financial services provider in Singapore and Hong Kong.
  

  • Image shows a Northern Assurance Company calendar for 1878.
1856 Russian steps
Russian steps

The Northern Assurance Company, later part of Commercial Union, appointed William Miller & Co as agent for St Petersburg, then capital of the Russian empire.

Various Aviva constituent companies continued business in Russia until the Revolution of 1917 led to the nationalisation of all banks and insurance companies.

In 2005 Aviva re-established a representative office in Moscow and in March 2006 was granted a licence to sell long-term savings and protection products.
  

  • Image shows part of a Commercial Union policy issued in Russia in 1867.
1859 First New Zealand insurer
First New Zealand insurer

The first underwriting company in the colony of New Zealand was the New Zealand Insurance Company.

It was established in Auckland in 1859 by a local lawyer, Thomas Russell, to transact fire and marine business.

Unfortunately the company's own office was not insured when fire broke out on 27 May 1860.

NZI, as the company later became known, was acquired by General Accident in 1989 and sold by Aviva in 2002.
  

  • Image shows a New Zealand Insurance Company poster.
1861 Commercial Union founded
Commercial Union founded

One of the main companies that eventually merged to create Aviva was established after a fire raged in a London hemp warehouse for nearly two days in June 1861.

The size of the disaster created panic among insurance companies, who announced premium increases for waterside warehouses.

Merchants called a public protest meeting and formed a committee to consider how to make their opposition most effective. The committee decided to form a new company, and the Commercial Union Assurance Company started business. The first policy was issued on 1 October 1861 to Thomas Francis Hicks.

By December, Commercial Union had ventured abroad, establishing its first agency in Germany.
 

  • Image shows the certificate of complete registration of Commercial Union Assurance Company, signed on 13 September 1861.

 

1862 World record sum insured

The International Exhibition, or Great London Exposition, of 1862, was housed in a building insured by Norwich Union Fire Society for what was at the time a world record sum of £450,000.

A further risk of £2,500 was later added to cover goods in the building, and Norwich Union was closely involved in giving advice to the building contractors on fire safety.

Meanwhile Commercial Union allowed its clerks time off to visit the exhibition.

Although the event attracted more than six million visitors between May and November 1862 and made a small profit, the exhibition building was not a great architectural success, and was subsequently demolished.

The site in South Kensington is now occupied by the Science Museum and the Natural History Museum.

1866 Amicable acquisition

Norwich Union Life Society acquired the Amicable Society, which was established in 1706 and claimed to be the world's oldest mutual life office.
   

  • Clip from Born in Norwich documentary, showing the Amicable Society.

 

1874 Tragedy aboard the Cospatrick
Tragedy aboard the Cospatrick

In November 1874 a fire on the emigrant ship Cospatrick, bound from Gravesend in England to Auckland, New Zealand, led to the death of all but three of her 476 passengers and crew.

The New Zealand Insurance Company and South British Fire and Marine Insurance Company of New Zealand were both involved in this tragic marine loss off the Cape of Good Hope.

Both companies, subsequently part of the Aviva group, paid claims on what was described as the worst sea disaster in the history of sail, and New Zealand's worst civil disaster.
  

  • Image shows Cospatrick.
1877 Norwich Cathedral
Norwich Cathedral

Norwich Cathedral first appeared as a company trade mark for Norwich Union.

The cathedral was used in various forms over the years, and the cathedral spire was an inspiration for part of the new corporate mark following the merger with CGU in 2000. It was retained in Aviva's logo from 2002.

  • Image shows a centenary calendar for Norwich Union Fire Insurance Society from 1897.

 

1877 Great fire of Saint John
Great fire of Saint John

Fire destroyed a large part of the city of Saint John, New Brunswick, Canada, in June 1877.

Commercial Union paid nearly £72,000 in claims, the prompt settlement of which secured the company an excellent reputation for service and ensured good business in the future.

Another of Aviva's constituent companies, Northern Assurance, was also a prominent insurer of those involved in the conflagration.
 

  • Image shows part of a Commercial Union Montreal prospectus.

 

1880 First liability cover at work
First liability cover at work

The first company to insure employers against losses caused by claims from employees injured at work was the Employers' Liability Assurance Corporation (later part of Commercial Union).

It was established in 1880 in response to the Employers' Liability Act, which extended the protection provided to workers involved in accidents caused by the negligence of business owners, managers and foremen.

The company said that "by offering insurance facilities to both masters and men, (it) will solve a question which has already caused a certain amount of ill-feeling between them."
  

  • Image shows a copy of a policy issued by Employers' Liability Assurance Corporateion in 1900.

 

1885 First staff lunches
First staff lunches

One of Aviva's companies claimed to be the first in the UK to provide subsidised lunches for its employees.

From February 1885, Employers' Liability – later part of Commercial Union – provided lunch for its staff in the board luncheon room for five days a week, subsidised by the company at a cost of 5d per head.
  

  • Image shows a photo of the Employers' Liability staff in 1882.

 

1885 General Accident formed
General Accident formed

General Accident, one of the main companies that subsequently merged to form Aviva, was established as the General Accident and Employers' Liability Assurance Association on 16 December 1885.

It was founded by a group of businessmen and landowners from Perthshire, Scotland, who decided to form an insurance company to protect their holdings and the interests of their employees.

The association soon expanded its business from accident and employers' liability to include sickness insurance.

During 1887, General Accident started writing fidelity guarantee, live stock and marine passengers' insurance and undertook the insurance of many tram companies across the country.

An advertisement from that year set out the company's business: "Accidents of all kinds covered by a totally unrestricted policy. Employers' liability assurance. Joint policies covering all Accidents to Workpeople. Policies securing Indemnity to Owners of Vehicles and Builders for Accidents to third parties. Fidelity guarantee bonds for all positions of Trust. Policies insuring the Baggage of Marine Passengers and Mariners."

In 1888, the association declined to insure a rugby tour to Australia organised by Alfred Shaw and Arthur Shrewsbury, two of the leading English cricketers of the era. In the same year, it was asked for a quotation to insure the Australian cricket team visiting the UK.
  

  • Image shows a photo of the General Accident staff based at Tay Street from 1890.
1889 First burglary insurance
First burglary insurance

The UK's first burglary insurance policy was issued by Mercantile & Guarantee of Glasgow, later part of Commercial Union.

The following year, General Accident became the second British company to offer this type of insurance cover.
   

  • Image shows a copy of a General Accident burglary insurance policy from 1890.
1891 First magazine for staff
First magazine for staff

The first edition of the Norwich Union Magazine was published for employees in 1891, earlier versions of staff publications having appeared since 1888.

The magazine continued to flourish in various formats, latterly as a quarterly publication for retired staff, until it merged with its CGU equivalent in 2002.

The Norwich Union Magazine was believed to be the oldest company publication of its type anywhere in the world.
  

  • Image shows the cover of the Christmas edition of the Norwich Union Magazine from 1891.

 

1892 Technological advances
Technological advances

General Accident's head office in Perth, Scotland, acquired its first typewriter in 1892. The first telephone was installed in 1894. The first electronic typewriter and telex machines were installed in 1958.

Commercial Union put in a telephone line at its own head office in 1880 at a cost of £6. By 1894 it had building plans for a new head office on Cornhill, London, which specified that internal communication would be via speaking tubes.
  

  • Image shows a photograph of the General Accident stenography room in Detroit, between 1910-1920.

 

1895 First women employees
First women employees

The first woman to be employed by one of the group's companies appears to have been M Louisa Shelton, a clerk, who was paid £26 per year by Scottish General Fire Assurance Corporation.

Meanwhile, at General Accident's head office in Perth, Scotland, a clerk called Mary Bain was taken on in the new business department at £40 per year.
   

  • Image shows a photograph of General Accident's head office staff.

 

1896 First motor insurance
First motor insurance

General Accident issued its first motor insurance policies. The company claimed they were the first of their kind in the UK.
  

  • Image shows a poster for General Accident motor car insurance from 1903.

 

1896 Winston Churchill policyholder
Winston Churchill policyholder

Winston Churchill, then a young officer in the 4th Queen's Own Hussars, took out a personal accident policy with the Accident Insurance Company.

In 1958 the directors of Commercial Union, which had acquired the Accident Insurance Company in 1906, wrote to Sir Winston informing him that this was the oldest personal accident policy on the company's books, and would be free from further premium payments.
  

  • Image show part of the Accident Insurance Company proposal for insurance for Winston Churchill, dated 17 June 1896.

 

1904 Toronto fire

A spectacular blaze in Toronto, Canada, started in a necktie factory and raged through the night of 19-20 April.

With no water for the fire engines, the city was engulfed and a small arms factory caught fire and blew up.

Fortunately, there was no loss of life. But the blaze destroyed three-and-a-half blocks and 120 buildings, causing damage estimated at $10 million.

Commercial Union paid out $40,000 as a result.

1905 Fire engine first
Fire engine first

The Norwich Union fire brigade at Worcester took delivery of their new "Fire King" - the first make of self-propelled fire engine in England.

Unfortunately, on the way to its first fire, sparks poured from the two-cylinder steam engine, destroying the blouse of a lady cyclist and a good portion of hedge.

The brigade turned around before they did any further damage and returned the engine to Merryweather, the manufacturers, who attributed the cause to "clutch trouble".

The repaired engine was returned to Worcester, where it served successfully for a number of years.
  

  • Image shows a photograph of the Worcester Fire King from 1905.

 

1905 Flagship head office opened

Norwich Union Life Society's new purpose-built head office, Surrey House, designed by George Skipper, opened in Norwich.

The main hall was decked out in marble that had originally been intended for Westminster Cathedral.

Surrey House remained a working office for the next century. Today it houses the Aviva group archive and forms an impressive main entrance for visitors.
  

  • Clip from Born in Norwich documentary, showing Surrey House.

 

1905 Acquisition of Hand-in-Hand
Acquisition of Hand-in-Hand

Commercial Union acquired the Hand-in-Hand Fire and Life Insurance Society (established 1696).

At the time, the Hand-in-Hand was the oldest existing insurance company in the UK and quite possibly the oldest in the world.
   

  • Image shows a copy of a Commercial Union fire policy from 1927.

 

1906 San Francisco disaster
San Francisco disaster

On 18 April 1906, the inhabitants of San Francisco were woken by an earthquake estimated to have registered 8.25 on the Richter scale.

The quake itself lasted only a minute but a combination of ruptured gas mains and sparks from newly installed electrical equipment led to fires which ravaged the city for three days.

Many insurers paid claims in full, including the Aviva constituent companies Scottish Union & National and North British & Mercantile. The latter paid out £666,000 and was included in what the local press entitled the "roll of honour", a list of companies that had met their obligations at once and honourably.

However, many smaller companies went to the wall, among them the American of Philadelphia, which was then acquired by Commercial Union.
  

  • Image shows a photograph of the New Zealand Insurance Company's offices after the San Francisco earthquake in 1906.

 

1907 Matchstick artist

British painter LS Lowry joined General Accident in the Manchester claims office in 1907, where he worked as a clerk until 1910.

It was not until the 1930s that Lowry achieved any kind of commercial success. He became one of the most popular British artists of the 20th century, best known for his atmospheric paintings of bleak industrial towns populated by matchstick figures.

1907 First no claims bonus
First no claims bonus

General Accident was the first UK insurer to introduce a no-claims bonus for homeowners by granting a free policy renewal every sixth year.
   

  • Image shows part of a poster for General Accident householder comprehensive policy.

 

1908 Irish connection
Irish connection

The Hibernian Fire & General Insurance Company was established in May 1908.

Commercial Union acquired a majority shareholding in Hibernian in 1964 and CGU completed the acquisition in 1999.

Hibernian continued through a merger with Norwich Union Life and Friends First general insurance business in 2000 and remained the group’s brand name in Ireland until 2010.
   

  • Image shows part of an Hibernian Fire & General Insurance Company fire policy, dated 1909.

 

1911 By appointment to royalty
By appointment to royalty

General Accident insured so many members of the British royal family, and cars of the royal household, that it was granted a royal warrant by King George V in 1911.

To the best of our knowledge, General Accident is the first and only insurance company to have held this honour.

The royal family subsequently decided to limit royal warrants to tradesmen. The professions - such as insurers, bankers, accountants, solicitors - and some other types of business no longer qualify.
   

  • Image shows a copy of a letter from Buckingham Palace, requesting insurance of carriages for the coronation of King George V, dated 14 June 1911.

 

1912 Sinking of the Titanic

Commercial Union was one of the companies that insured the White Star liner Titanic, which sank on 15 April 1912 with the loss of more than 1,500 lives after striking an iceberg on its maiden voyage.

The owners had so much confidence in her design, which included new watertight bulkheads, that they had not insured her for her full value, an estimated £1,750,000.

Even so, a loss of some £1,000,000 was involved which, according to The Times of 1912, was "the heaviest individual loss that has ever befallen underwriters".

Commercial Union's share of the claim amounted to £145,723, of which £60,723 was for losses to registered mail posted from London, Hamburg and Paris.

 

1914 Outbreak of First World War
Outbreak of First World War

Many Aviva employees served in the armed forces during the First World War. Those left behind took on the work of colleagues who had gone to fight. Some companies brought staff out of retirement and recruited more women.

In 1915 the German occupying authorities sealed the safe in the General Accident offices in Antwerp, Belgium – only for the staff to break in at night to take back vital records without the Germans ever finding out.

One member of staff from Glasgow had a notable war record. Captain Matthew "Bunty" Frew was a flying "ace" credited with 23 victories. During 1918 he was awarded the Distinguished Service Order and the Military Cross and Bar for shooting down enemy aircraft.

In recognition of the important contributions of group employees during the war, a special section has been created on the Aviva website. This includes a roll of honour for those who died, stories of employees who won medals, company war records, letters home, stories from the home front and what happened after the Armistice.
   

  • Image shows a photograph of Captain Matthew "Bunty" Frew.
1924 Motor manufacturer insurance
Motor manufacturer insurance

An innovative agreement between General Accident and Morris Motors meant that every Morris car that came off the production line was sold with a free General Accident comprehensive car insurance policy. The reduced premium of about £7 was paid by the manufacturer.

The scheme lasted for two years, during which about 90,000 vehicles were covered.

Although this was expensive in the short term, because it led to a higher volume of claims, it provided invaluable publicity for General Accident.

It gave the company access to a nationwide network of agents in garages selling Morris cars and reinforced its status as the country’s leading motor insurer.
  

  • Image shows part of the motor policy for Morris Cars provided by General Accident Fire and Life Assurance Corporation.
1927 Ceremonial Chinese parasol
Ceremonial Chinese parasol

Among the items retained in the Aviva group archive is a stunning Chinese ceremonial parasol.

Employees gave it to the managing director of General Accident when he visited the Far East branch at Shanghai in 1929.

The parasol is considered by experts to be the oldest example of its type anywhere in the world.
  

  • Image shows the Chinese ceremonial parasol.
1929 China crisis
China crisis

In August 1929 the Commercial Union manager at Harbin was captured by bandits while on a tour of inspection at Kiamusze (Jiamusi), about 300 miles north-east of the city.

A ransom of $150,000 was paid to secure his freedom and he was released in September.
  

  • Image shows a copy of the ransom issued for the Commercial Union manager.
1939 Outbreak of Second World War
Outbreak of Second World War

Many group employees were called up to serve in the armed forces during the Second World War. Others continued in their civilian jobs and sometimes had their offices bombed.

Vivienne Hall, a typist in the London head office of Northern Assurance, kept a diary that is now held by the Imperial War Museum and is quoted in a number of histories of the period.

In 1940 Norwich Union subscribed £5,000 to pay for a Spitfire fighter aircraft called Nuflier. It flew its last sortie in 1941 as it was damaged in an aerial dogfight over Kent.

General Accident offered a 20% wartime discount on car insurance premiums since so many vehicles were laid up because of petrol rationing. However, blackout conditions meant that accident claims continued.

Company employees were involved in a number of notable incidents, including the doomed attack by Fairey Swordfish aircraft against the German warships Scharnhorst and Gneisenau in February 1942 and the famous "Great Escape" from prisoner of war camp Stalag Luft III in March 1944.

A new section of the Aviva website is planned to mark the contribution of staff during the Second World War. The website already contains a section devoted to the part played by employees during the First World War.
 

  • Image shows a copy of a cartoon published by Commercial Union in 1944.
1940 Elephant for tea
Elephant for tea

General Accident was asked to write the public liability risk for parading an elephant through Sydney, Australia, as part of a publicity campaign for tea.
    

  • Image shows a photograph of General Accident's H G Daley aeessing the risk of the elephant.
1956 First computer
First computer

The Philadelphia office of General Accident in the US installed the company's first computer, an Invec 650, for handling general accounts.

In 1960 General Accident ordered the first computer for its UK business, an IBM 1401, which used punch cards for input and magnetic storage tapes.

Commercial Union’s first computer centre was set up in Exeter in 1962. It housed a KDP 10 computer nicknamed "Cutie" – Commercial Union Totally Integrated Electronics - built by the English Electric Company at a cost of over £250,000. According to a contemporary report, two domestic staff mistook a piece of modern sculpture in the foyer for the machine itself.

The Exeter computer centre also held the world's first Xeronic printers to be used for commercial purposes, and the first "Swift" high-speed data transmission system to be installed in Britain.

Norwich Union's first computer, an Orion 1, arrived at head office from Ferranti in Manchester in 1964. Another computer, five times faster than the original Orion, was installed in 1966.

The first personal computers (PCs) were installed in Norwich Union offices in 1980, prompting the creation of a computer advice centre to help train and support staff.
   

  • The photograph shows "Cutie" in Exeter.
1959 Merger with North British and Mercantile
Merger with North British and Mercantile

The North British & Mercantile Insurance Company (established 1809), which had been applauded for paying up promptly following the San Francisco disaster of 1906, became a subsidiary of Commercial Union.

  • Image shows part of a North British & Mercantile advert from 1915.
1959 Norwich Union buys Scottish Union

The Scottish Union & National Insurance Company (established 1824) was bought by Norwich Union.

Included in the acquisition was the marine insurer Maritime Insurance Company, which was sold to American financial corporation CNA in 1998.
  

  • Clip from Born in Norwich documentary, showing Scottish Union.
1960 'Mighty Mouse' Don Thompson
'Mighty Mouse' Don Thompson

Don Thompson, who worked for Commercial Union and was described as "a frail, bespectacled insurance clerk", won Olympic gold in the marathon walk at the 1960 Rome Olympic Games.

He reportedly prepared for his Olympic exploits in the heat of the Italian summer by walking up and down in his steaming bathroom.

He was nicknamed "El Topolino" or "Mighty Mouse" by the Italian spectators.
 

  • Image shows Don Thompson throwing a javelin.
1963 Presidential choice
Presidential choice

US President John F Kennedy took out motor insurance through General Accident.

The company continued to insure members of the Kennedy family until 1972.

President Kennedy's predecessor, President Dwight D Eisenhower, was also insured through General Accident in 1960.
 

  • Image shows a copy of President John F Kennedy's motor insurance policy.
1963 Great Train Robbery

Commercial Union paid out over £1 million following the Great Train Robbery, which saw the theft of over £2.5 million in used notes from the Glasgow to London mail train when it was hijacked in Buckinghamshire on 8 August.

Rewards totalling a record £260,000 were offered by insurers, banks and the Post Office for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the thieves and return of the money.

After a massive police operation the gang's abandoned hideout was found at Leatherslade Farm in Bedfordshire.

Just over six months later 12 of the gang of 15 thieves were sentenced to jail terms totalling more than 300 years.

1964 Shareholding in Hibernian
Shareholding in Hibernian

Commercial Union acquired a majority shareholding in the Hibernian Group (founded 1908) in Ireland.

The remaining shares were acquired in 1999.
 

  • Image shows the cover of Hibernian Insurance's shops and pubs policy from 1978.
1967 Yorkshire connection
Yorkshire connection

General Accident entered a takeover battle with the Phoenix that led to the acquisition of the Yorkshire Insurance Company (established 1824).

The deal provided the group with its links to the city of York, which became home to the headquarters of Aviva's life insurance business in the UK.
 

  • The image shows Yorkshire Insurance Company sportsman's policies poster from the 1950s.
1968 Northern Assurance acquired
Northern Assurance acquired

Commercial Union acquired Northern Assurance (established 1836).

Aviva's first connections with many countries around the world were established through the agents of Northern Assurance.
 

  • Image shows the cover of a Northern Assurance home owner proposal, from 1950.
1969 New London headquarters
New London headquarters

Commercial Union's new company headquarters opened at St Helen's in the City of London.

It included a new automatic telephone system which, for the first time, allowed staff to dial internally or externally without the assistance of a switchboard operator.

The building, which was damaged by an IRA bomb in 1992, remains Aviva's group head office.

1973 Delta Lloyd acquired
Delta Lloyd acquired

Commercial Union acquired Delta Lloyd in the Netherlands.

The Dutch insurer had been formed in 1969 from the merger of Delta (created the year before by the merger of Amstleven and Hollandsche Societeit) with Nedlloyd.

In 1999 Delta Lloyd merged with Nuts Ohra to create Delta Lloyd Nuts Ohra – one of the five biggest life and general insurers in the Dutch market.

The company name reverted to Delta Lloyd in 2002.

In 2009 Aviva announced a partial flotation of its shareholding in Delta Lloyd on the stock market.
 

  • Image taken from a Delta Lloyd report publish in 1990.
1977 Norwich Union mail coach

The Norwich Union-sponsored mail coach recreated the Norwich to London run for the first time since 1877.

Two years later the mail coach ran from Norwich to Belgium to mark the opening of the new Norwich Union general insurance branch in Antwerp and to celebrate the millennium of the founding of the ancient city of Brussels.

In 1996, coachman John Parker and his team of Hungarian grey horses marked the 150th anniversary of the last London to Norwich run of 1846 by covering a record-breaking 139 miles in just 21.5 hours.

  • Clip shows TV footage of the Norwich Union mail coach journey from Norwich to Antwerp in 1977.
1983 Theft of Shergar

General Accident was one of a number of companies that insured Shergar, the record-breaking 1981 Derby winner.

The champion horse was taken from an Irish stud in February 1983. Demands for a ransom were never met, and Shergar was presumed dead by August of that year.

General Accident's liability amounted to £144,000.

1989 NZI acquired
NZI acquired

General Accident completed its acquisition of NZI in Australia and New Zealand.

NZI, established in 1859 as the New Zealand Insurance Company, was sold in 2002.
  

  • Image shows NZI coat of arms.
1992 Bomb damages head office
Bomb damages head office

Commercial Union's head office at St Helen's in London was extensively damaged when an IRA car bomb exploded outside the Baltic Exchange on 10 April 1992, killing three people and injuring many others.
 

  • Image shows St Helen's after the explosion in April 1992.
1994 Major acquisition in France
Major acquisition in France

Commercial Union acquired the general insurance operations of Groupe Victoire, including its subsidiaries L’Abeille Assurances, L’Abeille Vie, L’Abeille Reassurances, ACEP, AMIS, Assurop and La Paix.

The acquisition was regarded as the most important investment concluded in France by a British group to date.

The French business had its origins in the 1957 merger of L’Abeille and La Paix to create La Compagnie d’Assurance Abeille et Paix (CAAP). In 1972 CAAP changed its name to Assurances-Abeille-Paix (AAP), which became better known as Groupe Victoire.
  

  • Image shows a La Paix poster from the 1960s.
1996 Specialist pensions provider acquired
Specialist pensions provider acquired

General Accident completed the acquisition of specialist pensions company Provident Mutual (established 1840), a significant milestone in the development of its life and pensions business.
   

  • Image shows a Provident Mutual poster.
1997 Norwich Union flotation
Norwich Union flotation

In the year of its bicentenary, Norwich Union demutualised and floated as a public limited company.

The move, which took place on 16 June, transformed Norwich Union into a FTSE 100 company quoted on the London Stock Exchange.

The £2.4 billion raised in the share offer was the largest sum ever raised in a British private sector flotation.
 

  • The image show a Norwich Union advert, first published in 1972.
1998 Merger creates CGU

CGU plc was created on 2 June 1998 by the merger of Commercial Union and General Accident. The merger had been announced in February of that year.

In total, CGU had operations in more than 60 countries. It employed about 20,000 people in the UK and a further 32,000 overseas.

1998 Purchase of London and Edinburgh
Purchase of London and Edinburgh

Norwich Union acquired London & Edinburgh Insurance Group from The Hartford International Financial Services Group of Connecticut, USA, in November 1998.

The combined business became the UK's third-largest general insurer based on premium income.

  • Image shows a Norwich Union acquisition of London & Edinburgh poster, from 1998.
2000 Merger of CGU and Norwich Union
Merger of CGU and Norwich Union

The merger of CGU and Norwich Union, announced in February, became effective on 30 May 2000. The new company took the name CGNU plc.

CGNU was the UK's largest insurance group, a top-five European life insurer, and had over £200 billion of assets under management.

As part of the merger announcement, CGNU said it would dispose of its property and casualty business in the US. The sale to White Mountains Insurance Group completed in 2001.

2000 Exit from London market business
Exit from London market business

CGNU (as Aviva was then known) announced its exit from the London market - a combination of Lloyd's and other global risks - in November 2000.

The group agreed to sell Marlborough Underwriting Agency, its wholly-owned Lloyd's managing agency, and reinsure all existing London market business with the Berkshire Hathaway Group.
 

  • Image shows Lloyds of London.
2002 Aviva new brand identity

The group changed its name from CGNU plc to Aviva plc with effect from 1 July 2002.

It was announced at the time that most of the group's trading businesses would be rebranded as Aviva in due course, but strong local brands and some specialist names were retained for the time being.

The names that were kept included Norwich Union in the UK, Delta Lloyd in the Netherlands, Hibernian in Ireland, Commercial Union in Poland, NZI in New Zealand, and Morley Fund Management.

These operations would carry the endorsement "an Aviva company" where appropriate.

2003 New start in China

A new life insurance joint venture called Aviva-Cofco opened for business in Guangzhou, capital of Guangdong province (formerly Canton), in southern China.

Aviva companies were first present in China from 1855, but all had closed their doors by 1951. Representative offices were reopened by General Accident in Beijing in 1994 and Shanghai in 1995, and Aviva-Cofco started trading in January 2003.

A joint venture with the state-owned China National Cereals, Oils & Foodstuffs Import & Export Corporation, it has claimed a number of "firsts", including being the first foreign-invested life insurance company to become involved in sports-related insurance in China.
 

  • The clip is of Aviva-Cofco's television commercial, which first aired in October 2004.
2004 Asian tsunami disaster relief
Asian tsunami disaster relief

Across the group’s businesses, strong support was shown for the victims of the Asian tsunami that struck on 26 December 2004.

Staff donated blankets, clothing and other essential supplies and contributed more than £200,000 of the £700,000 committed by Aviva to the emergency relief effort.

Part of the funding was directed towards building schools and replacing fishing boats to help families in India rebuild their lives. In particular, Aviva supported the rebuilding of 10 houses in the village of Seenigama, Sri Lanka.

To help co-ordinate the funds donated by employees in the UK, Aviva teamed up with Oxfam and Concern India to establish suitable sustainable development projects.

In 2006, partly in response to the tsunami disaster, the group established a global partnership with Oxfam, becoming a founder of the Oxfam 365 Alliance to respond to emergencies around the world.

2005 Acquisition of RAC
Acquisition of RAC

Aviva acquired leading motoring services provider RAC in May 2005.

RAC became part of the UK general insurance business, strengthening Norwich Union's position as the UK's number one general insurer.

2006 Return to Russia
Return to Russia

Aviva sold its first insurance products in the Russian market for nearly 90 years.

Group companies had been present in Russia from 1856, though none of the businesses survived the sweeping nationalisations that followed the Revolution of 1917.

In 2005 Aviva established a representative office in Moscow and in March 2006 was granted a licence to sell long-term savings and protection products. The first policies were written by June that year.

2006 US business transformed
US business transformed

The acquisition of AmerUs transformed Aviva's business in the United States, establishing a leading position in a high-growth segment of the world's largest savings market.

At the time of the acquisition in November 2006, AmerUs was a leader in the US indexed market, ranking number one in sales of indexed life insurance and third in sales of indexed annuities.

AmerUs had been created by the merger in 1994 of two companies founded a century earlier: the Central Life Assurance Company (incorporated in 1896), and the American Mutual Life Insurance Company (established in 1897).

The Aviva group can trace its heritage in the US even further back, to 1810, when American of Philadelphia, later part of Commercial Union, was established.

2006 World's first carbon-neutral insurer
World's first carbon-neutral insurer

In an effort to limit its impact on the environment, in December 2006 Aviva committed to becoming the first insurer to be carbon neutral worldwide.

This ambition would involve becoming more energy efficient and using more zero emissions electricity.

Outstanding carbon emissions were offset by investing in projects that generated carbon credits, either through carbon mitigation or renewable energy, including:
 

  • Biogas projects in Sri Lanka;
  • Human-powered treadle pumps, vital for irrigation in rural areas such as Uttar Pradesh, India;
  • Wind turbines in Hebei Province, China, and Tamil Nahdu, India;
  • "Green" cement in the Netherlands and Ireland;
  • More efficient wood-burning stoves in Africa.
2008 New global asset manager

Aviva combined its asset management businesses to create a single, globally integrated operation called Aviva Investors.

Initially with £235 billion of funds under management, Aviva Investors brought together 1,100 employees in 15 countries across Europe, the UK, North America and Asia under a single brand.

One of the key businesses to become part of Aviva Investors was Morley, which began as Geoffrey Morley and Partners in 1971.

It was acquired by Commercial Union in 1990 and was relaunched as Morley Fund Management, the London-based asset management division of the CGU group, in 1999.
 

  • The clip shows an Aviva Investors commercial which was aired in the UK.
2009 Norwich Union becomes Aviva
Norwich Union becomes Aviva

Norwich Union completed its planned name change to Aviva on 1 June 2009.

The rebranding in the UK was a key part of the group's strategy to unite all its businesses behind the fourth most valuable insurance brand in the world.

The group already traded as Aviva in most of its 28 markets across Europe, North America and Asia Pacific.

Aviva's businesses in Ireland and Poland were expected to complete the name change to Aviva in 2010.
 

  • Aviva signs go up at the offices in Norwich.
2009 Aviva shares listed in US

Aviva was listed on the New York Stock Exchange on 20 October, reflecting the fact that more than 20% of its shareholders were in the US.

The listing was regarded as an important development for the group because the US was the largest savings market in the world.
 

  • The video clip shows Aviva's opening day listing on the New York Stock Exchange.